- Genre and Narrative Coherence in the Acts of the Apostles by Alan J. Bale
This insightful work on the genre(s) of the Acts of the Apostles is a modified version of Bale’s Ph.D. thesis at the University of Birmingham, UK. The book attempts to bring the discussion of the genre(s) of Acts up to speed with the latest advances in genre theory. The book is divided into two almost equally long sections. The first section concerns methodology, while the second section consists of three case studies that apply the theory as set out in the first section.
After an introduction delineating the scope and general problem of the study, Bale launches into a clarification of his own stance on some of the main issues in Acts scholarship (ch. 1). Bale more than once chooses a middle ground on issues that are not directly related to his argument. This is perhaps wise, as many of these issues will not change the main import of his work. He notes, for instance, that there are multiple points of contact between Luke and Acts; but since the relationship between them is not clear-cut, he prefers to work only with Acts without validating his findings with regard to Luke (20). He has a similar stance with regard to the “we-passages” (25). Bale carefully proposes a late date for Acts, based on the findings of his research (27). This dating depends on the author of Acts’s reliance on the Pauline letters, an idea that is developed and explained more fully in the case studies later on in the book. However, it should be noted that Bale’s main argument does not stand or fall with the issue of dating.
Throughout this first chapter, as is true for the whole discussion of methodology, Bale supplies ample examples of Acts scholarship for the different points of view that he refers to.
Bale’s discussion in chapter 1 of the sources of Acts and how the search for sources relates to the study of genre is pertinent to his main argument. He notes that there is somewhat of a paradigm shift visible in recent Acts scholarship with regard to sources: instead of looking for sources where things seem out of place, some scholars would rather look at the coherence of the narrative as it stands—and as a whole—first. Bale would gladly see more of this type of study; his own work builds on this idea of narrative coherence and seeks to inspire others to follow this trend. [End Page 189] His reasons for such an approach are persuasive; to quote him on a most cogent point:
The structure of any work of literature is likely to be highly complex, with some elements that do not make immediate sense having their coherence validated later in the text. An emphasis on finding seams in such a text fails to respect this complex coherence, and serves only to discourage scholars from fully exploring how what appears incoherent or inconsistent at one point can be relevant later.(32)
At the same time, Bale points out that not everything in a narrative should necessarily make sense. He (rightly) criticises biblical criticism in general because it “unconsciously assumes coherence as a basic premise at every turn” (37).
Chapter 2 provides a summary of previous proposals for the genre of Acts. Bale shows that the idea of “binary classification” (68) underlies most of these proposals: a genre is either wholly adopted, or wholly rejected. Bale identifies this binary view as problematic and aims, as set out in chapter 3, to replace it with a view that allows for the interplay between different types of genre in one work. Bale summarises this approach by replacing the “idea that genre is an instrument of classification” with the idea “that genre is an instrument of interpretation” (118). He suggests that texts available to the reader, in a wide variety of...